Indiana’s ‘Pravda on the Plains’ Gets Shut Down

by David Patterson  |  January 30, 2015

Indiana’s ‘Pravda on the Plains’ Gets Shut Down

It seemed like a good idea before the public actually heard about it. That’s probably what Indiana Gov. Mike Pence thought after he pulled the plug just days after word got out that he was planning to launch a state-run, taxpayer-funded news service that would offer pre-written news stories and breaking news about his administration.

“After thorough review of the preliminary planning and careful consideration of the concerns expressed, I am writing you to inform you that I have made a decision to terminate development of the JustIN website immediately,” Pence wrote in a statement.

Critics quickly nicknamed the proposed news spin cycle as “Pravda on the plains,” likening it to the state-run media outlet of the former Soviet communist party. Pence’s service was expected to launch its website in late February and be overseen by a former journalist from the Indianapolis Star. Reports indicated the service initially would cost taxpayers $100,000 in salaries to maintain it.

Initially the Pence administration defended the service as a “resource,” but critics weren’t buying it – especially in light of the governor’s dalliance with a run for President in 2016.

“This is a propaganda outlet, plain and simple,” said Mike Tully, an Indianapolis Star columnist, in a scathing response to the announcement. “This is a politician, one who already has an army of press secretaries trying to seize more control of what you read about the things he says and does.”

Pence hosted a conservative talk radio show that helped launch his election to Congress in 2002, so he knows the power of spreading a message unfiltered by objective reporting. He also bragged about continually voting to defund public broadcasting while in Congress. As governor, Pence has taken flack for deleting negative comments from his administration’s state-run Facebook page.

The irony of Pence’s about-face didn’t escape Tully. “It looks like nothing less than a lazy attempt to fool the public with fluffy stories and feel-good headlines that politicians historically have had to earn with smart policies and legislation. Hey, why work hard to earn those headlines when you can just write them yourself?”

AFSCME Retiree Speaks Out for Florida’s Kids

by Omar Tewfik  |  January 30, 2015

MIAMI, Florida - An AFSCME retiree who is a life-long resident of Miami, a 31-year veteran employee of Jackson Memorial Hospital and a grandmother, made an emotional appeal to a panel of state legislators to restore cuts in social programs that Florida’s children desperately need.

“Simply put, I believe we are failing our children,” Melba White told a panel of state lawmakers from Miami-Dade County, referring to the harmful cuts to state agencies like the Department of Children and Families (DCF – Florida’s child protective services).

White should know. As a procurement specialist at Jackson Memorial Hospital, she worked with nurses and other health care professionals to make sure they had the equipment they needed best to provide quality care for their patients. White took her job very seriously because she knew that failure to procure the right equipment at a hospital could mean the difference between life and death.

Now retired, she was advocating on behalf of her seven grandchildren and other kids who might be left behind, citing a recent report on harmful cuts to the state workforce. “As a result of cuts to the Department of Children and Families (DCF), over 500 children, some from Miami, have lost their lives due to abuse or neglect,” she said. “Their deaths are a scandal, and a stain on our state.”

The report White mentioned contains shocking information, including the fact that massive cuts to Florida’s child protective services prevented the agency’s ability to monitor at-risk children and even prevent deaths. The issue has come to light most recently as an investigation is launched into a horrific incident in which a man is accused of having thrown his five-year-old daughter off a bridge. The man had been previously reported to DCF’s abuse hotline, and the investigation is ongoing.  

“Our society must protect people who cannot help themselves, including the elderly and those who have fallen on hard times,” said White, urging lawmakers to do the right thing by voting to fund state services when they return to Tallahassee for the legislative session that begins March 3. “Every child we fail to protect, for me, as a grandmother, is one too many.”

Watch Melba’s speech, and add your name to fight for workers’ rights and to maintain critical services in Florida.

Union Benefits: $207 More Dollars a Week

by Lee Saunders  |  January 29, 2015

Union Benefits: $207 More Dollars a Week

Ever wonder what the benefit is to being in a union?

Well here’s a big one: On average, union members make $207 more dollars a week than non-union workers. That’s $10,000 more each year, according to the latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

No wonder studies show union members are happier.

But it’s not just about us. It’s about the whole country. As U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez noted last week:

“There is a direct link throughout American history between the strength of the middle class and the vitality of the labor movement. When unions are strong, working families thrive, with wages and productivity rising in tandem. But when the percentage of people represented by unions is low, there is downward pressure on wages and the middle class takes it on the chin.”

Take action today: Sign up here for AFSCME text message alerts. AFSCME defied the odds last year and grew by nearly 132,000 members, thanks to the hard work of rank-and-file members who volunteered to talk with their fellow workers. This is how we can rebuild the middle class, by staying involved.

We’ll send you localized updates about ways you can help grow our union, defend the public services we provide and make a difference in your community.

Lee Saunders is the president of AFSCME.

Park Ranger

Coming Out at Work and the Fight for Equality

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  January 27, 2015

Coming Out at Work and the Fight for Equality Rallying for gay marriage rights are, from left, Tom Privitere, vice president; Bess Watts and her wife, Anne Tischer; and Dawn Lepard, the Pride at Work secretary.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered at work can be one of the most difficult choices a person can make. Once it is done, it can never be undone and word travels fast – so be prepared when you do. When it goes right, it feels wonderful to be able to be yourself and not be hidden away in a closet.

AFSCME and the AFL-CIO advocate for safe and inclusive workplaces for all workers, especially those who are often left behind. The AFL-CIO’s Pride at Work initiative plays an important role in improving the lives of LGBTQ working families, says Bess Watts, a library assistant from Monroe Community College near here who leads the local Pride at Work chapter.

“Pride at Work gives our members an opportunity to be who they are both at home and at work,” said Watts. “The members in the Rochester Finger Lakes chapter have worked so hard to gain the respect as an active member of the labor community. It’s been our philosophy that all issues affecting workers are issues for all workers.”

As New York state considered whether or not to allow for same sex marriage, Bess Watts and her chapter took to the streets, building lasting relationships and overcoming obstacles to garner the support of every major union, including police and fire, to force reluctant legislators to vote for equality. Their experience taking on their issues directly taught them that by working together, no obstacle was too great.

In recognition of their hard work, the AFL-CIO Rochester Finger Lakes Pride at Work chapter won the Pride at Work Constituency Group Award at the AFL-CIO Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil and Human Rights Conference on Jan. 18, 2015. “We were proud to receive the award from the AFL-CIO. Our members earned it through their hard work and advocacy,” Watts said.

“This is our chapter,” Watts emphasized. “We have worked so hard and come so far, but there is a lot of work left to do.” Watts prefers to defer the credit for the chapter’s success to her members, but it’s clear that her commitment to equality is deep rooted. “I served my country but had to leave because I could not serve in dignity,” Watts said of her military service.

“Leaders like Bess Watts, in her bravery and unrelenting resolve to advance the rights of all workers, especially those of the LGBTQ community, are an inspiration to me personally,” said CSEA/AFSCME Local 1000 Pres. Danny Donohue, also an International vice president. “Together, we will continue to create safe and inclusive workplaces for all workers.”

For more information about Pride at Work go to:


UC Doctors Strike Over Unfair Labor Practices

January 26, 2015

UC Doctors Strike Over Unfair Labor Practices

Doctors at all 10 student health centers at the University of California will conduct a one-day strike on Tuesday, Jan. 27, to protest the university’s lack of good-faith bargaining on a first contract. The doctors, members of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists, have filed multiple Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges with the Public Employee Relations Board.

“A ULP strike is the only way to compel UC to follow the laws that govern bargaining,” explained UAPD Pres. Stuart A. Bussey, M.D. “Unfortunately, UC has a history of disrespecting workers during negotiations, and we’re no exception to that.”

UC’s behavior has made it impossible for the student health doctors to reach a settlement on their first contract. UAPD members grew tired of UC’s unfair bargaining tactics prompting more than 90 percent of the membership to vote in favor of a ULP strike.

“We organized a union so that UC would respect doctors, and take seriously its obligation to provide health care, including adequate mental health services, to the students,” said Charles McDaniel, M.D., a psychiatrist who works at UCLA. “We have been trying to reach an agreement at the bargaining table, but UC’s ongoing unfair labor practices are standing in the way of that.”

Stonewalling negotiations with its workers’ unions is a pattern for UC, and UAPD is not the only AFSCME affiliate to give UC notice of a ULP strike. AFSCME Local 3299, Patient Care and Services employees, went on strike twice last year to expose UC for its serial law-breaking and unfair negotiating tactics at the bargaining table.

The doctors will be joined on the picket line by UC students, community supporters and other UC employees as they send a message to the administration with their historic strike. It is the first strike by licensed doctors in the past 25 years.


Next Up: Young Unionists Leading the Way

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  January 26, 2015

Next Up: Young Unionists Leading the Way Rick Pospichal is one of the two newly elected members of the AFL-CIO’s Young Workers Advisory Council, a board of young union members who care about the issues that matter most to people newly joining the workforce.

Rick Pospichal works in the registrar’s office at Winona State University in Minnesota, where he’s surrounded by young people who are preparing for a life beyond campus.  But Pospichal believes that this generation needs more than a diploma to make it in the working world.  They also need a strong labor movement that responds to the needs of young workers.

Pospichal is one of the two newly elected members of the AFL-CIO’s Young Workers Advisory Council, a board of young union members who care about the issues that matter most to people newly joining the workforce. He is already president of AFSCME Local 945 and an active member of Minnesota Young Workers.  “I became involved because I think we can make a difference,” he says.  “I think we can determine the future of the labor movement, and make sure it doesn’t fade away.”

At a meeting in Washington, DC, this month, the advisory council developed a youth platform that outlines the path to a strong new workforce.  From free public higher education and more union apprenticeships to strong protection against discrimination and bigotry, there’s a lot of work to be done.  And that work takes a union, just like it did when previous generations fought for safety standards and an eight-hour work day.

These efforts are more crucial now than ever, Pospichal reminds us.  Millennials are graduating into an economy where good union jobs have been replaced with temp and hourly work.  Unless young people can organize and advocate for workplace rights, they’re looking at a bleak future.

“We’re trying to provide young activists with the tools they need to build power,” Pospichal says. To start, he’s working with the council to organize the Next Up Summit this spring, March 19-22, in Chicago. Workshops will help activists launch statewide campaigns, start worker groups, and build support for issues like LGBT rights and racial equality.  If you are interested in attending, please register online by Sunday, Feb. 15.

Labor Secretary: ‘Turn Up the Volume on Worker Voice’

by Pablo Ros  |  January 26, 2015

Labor Secretary: ‘Turn Up the Volume on Worker Voice’ U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez made a strong case for the value of labor unions following the release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2014 Union Membership Report.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez made a strong case for the value of labor unions following the release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2014 Union Membership Report.

“Today’s report confirms what we’ve always known: that belonging to a union makes a powerful difference in people’s lives, providing greater economic security and helping them punch their ticket to the middle class,” Perez said Friday.

The report highlights that the median weekly earnings of nonunion workers ($763) were only 79 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($970). As Perez points out, that’s no small difference. If you do the math, it amounts to $10,000 more a year for union members.

In addition, women who are union members earn salaries that are closer to parity with their male counterparts than those of nonunion women.

Perez noted, as President Obama did in his State of the Union address, that the American economy has bounced back from the brink. Nevertheless, he said, labor unions are more important now than ever.

“The economy is resurgent, with an unemployment rate well below 6 percent and job growth we haven’t experienced since the late 1990s,” Perez said. “The challenge we face now is creating shared prosperity, ensuring that our growing economy works for everyone. To do that, we need to turn up the volume on worker voice.”

Labor unions will help strengthen America’s middle class at a time when many families are struggling to make ends meet while saving for their children’s education and planning for retirement.

“There is a direct link throughout American history between the strength of the middle class and the vitality of the labor movement,” Perez recalled. “It’s not a coincidence. When unions are strong, working families thrive, with wages and productivity rising in tandem. But when the percentage of people represented by unions is low, there is downward pressure on wages and the middle class takes it on the chin.”

At a time when many elected state officials across the nation – including newly elected or reelected governors in Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and Ohio – have vowed to take on labor unions and silence the voices of working families, Perez echoed President Obama’s call to strengthen, not weaken, laws that give workers a voice.

“That means protecting and strengthening collective bargaining rights, and it also means exploring new organizing strategies and other innovative approaches to empowering workers in a modern economy,” he said.

Although the 2014 Union Membership Report registered a small (0.2 percent) drop in union membership from 2013, AFSCME defied the odds, organizing 132,000 new members across the nation last year. 

Chicago Cab Drivers Mourn Slain Driver, Seek Protections

by Dave Kreisman  |  January 23, 2015

Chicago Cab Drivers Mourn Slain Driver, Seek Protections A Cab Drivers United member donates money to Mr. Madu's family in order to support them and help cover funeral costs.

CHICAGO – Mourning the Jan. 8 shooting death of driver Chinedu Madu, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 raised money to help with funeral costs, and to support his widow and young son, while urging the city to implement reforms to protect the wellbeing of Chicago’s 12,000 cab drivers.

“Every single day we head out onto the road, we provide millions of Chicagoans a vital service, but we’re also prime targets for violent crime,” said David Adenenkan, a Cab Drivers United member. “Today we come together to remember brother Chinedu Madu, a fellow driver tragically murdered on the job.”

Adenenkan spoke at a brief memorial at O’Hare Airport. The drivers also held a memorial at Midway Airport, with Madu’s family present for both memorials.

“We not only raised over $3,000 so far, but we talked about needed reforms to ensure each and every one of us make it home safely to our families at the end of a shift,” said Cheryl Regina Miller, a longtime Chicago cab driver who spoke at the Midway Airport memorial. “Drivers have rights for compensation under Illinois’ workers’ compensation system, but we aren’t taught that in the training we go through to become cab drivers.”

Cab drivers are 20 times more likely to be murdered on the job than other workers, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The murder rate for all workers was 0.5 per 100,000 between 1998 and 2007, but for cab drivers the murder rate ranged from 9 per 100,000 to 19.

“The City of Chicago needs to take a long look at what’s being done to protect the health and wellbeing of cab drivers, and take proactive steps to prevent another tragedy like the one that’s fallen on the Madu family. We are sitting ducks out there,” Adenenkan said.

Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 will hold a safety training Feb. 11 with health and safety experts, and workers’ compensation attorneys, to educate cab drivers on their rights and to develop solutions to the epidemic plaguing cab drivers across the country.

As the task force continues its review, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 will continue to build public support in the community for the drivers’ right to fair rules and due process.

Caution! Man at Work for You

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  January 22, 2015

Caution! Man at Work for You Lance Whiteside, Ernest Schreiber, Stewart Ferguson and Charles Jackson. Local 3033, Dauphin County, PennDOT. Photo courtesy of AFSCME Council 13

Pennsylvania snowplow driver Stewart Ferguson first realized how important his job was during the blizzard of 1992-93, when he was able to clear a path for an ambulance carrying a woman who needed heart surgery. It was one of his first assignments, a life-or-death situation.

“Front Street in Harrisburg had three feet of snow,” Ferguson recalled. “We got her there safely.”

Everyone knows what the yellow PennDOT snowplow looks like, but all too often people ignore it, actually putting the snowplow drivers and themselves at risk, Ferguson said. “I’m focused on clearing the road. It’s dangerous when a driver passes me. Give me a break – and I’ll get you to your destination safely.”

Ferguson loves his job because he is able to help people get to their destinations – not only by clearing the roads in winter, but also by repairing them during such natural disasters as floods. “Two or three years ago, when the flood happened, we had to have a road replaced in Hershey. We did it in record time, so people could get back to work,” he explained.

“My job is important because I help move the public around safely,” said Ferguson. “I have been doing this for over 23 years and I will continue to do it because I love what I do.”

AFSCME Accepting Applications for 2015 Women’s Leadership Academy

by Lee Saunders and Laura Reyes  |  January 22, 2015

AFSCME Accepting Applications for 2015 Women’s Leadership Academy

Across the nation, AFSCME women are leading the charge to create change for working families. Women leaders know that to accomplish our goals we must actively recruit new members and engage other members to join us, fight for the issues that matter most to us at the bargaining table and in state legislatures, and lift up the voices and stories of AFSCME members to promote the value of public services. 

That’s why we are excited to announce the 2015 AFSCME Women’s Leadership Academy, to be held from June to December of this year. The Academy, designed for women officers or activists at the local union level, prepares AFSCME women for future leadership roles in our union. Below are the requirements for participation in the Academy and a web address for the Academy application.

This six-month Academy will include:

  • A five-day orientation session on June 22-26, 2015, and a three-day closing session in December.
  • Completion of a local or council campaign project.
  • Frequent contact through social media and webinars.

The national union will pay travel costs, overnight accommodations (double occupancy), and meals for all formal sessions.  Participants or affiliates are expected to cover any release time or lost wages.

Applicants must demonstrate:

  • Commitment to our 2015 priorities and to build AFSCME during the next decade.
  • Support from their AFSCME local or council.
  • Engagement in activities supporting Power to Win goals, for example: organizing new members or increasing member involvement, political action/PEOPLE recruitment, community allies work.

Application/Selection Process:

  • Complete the online application here.
  • Applications and letter of support must be received by Saturday, March 7, 2015.
  • The scanned letter of support may be e-mailed to
  • The letter of support may be mailed to: AFSCME Education Department, Attn: WLA, 1625 L Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036.
  • Following review and selection, applicants will be notified by Friday, April 10, 2015.

We hope you take advantage of this powerful opportunity to help build our union.

Lee Saunders is the president of AFSCME. Laura Reyes is its secretary-treasurer.


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